Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Just One Student

This week marked the last session in the 6-week Control Unleashed course I teach through BehaviorWorks.  I always like to take a look back and reflect on the journey that was made during the class.  Each class I teach is made up of a unique mix of students and dogs and this session of Control Unleashed was no exception.  

During each of the courses I teach, regardless of the topic, I make a personal goal to help each and every student succeed in the best way possible.  As a teacher, I find it immensely gratifying when I get to witness the moments in time where a true, honest connection between human and canine are made.  Helping people get to this point and recognize they have gotten there is wonderful feeling.  Following closely behind, almost as wonderful, is when I see a student take the initiative to push themselves to make that connection even better.  Whether it's by upping criteria at exactly the right moment, ending the training session after a perfect response or recognizing when their dog is getting stressed and respecting that communication to stop training.  Any of these pure forms of observation and involvement from the human partner make my heart glow with delight and respect.

Over my relatively short "professional" training career, clients who respect and desire a true connection and open communication with their dog are few and far between.  I don't think this viewpoint is rare, but I do think it's unfortunate.  There are many dog owners who just want their dog to sit, lay down, stay and come on command without care to how they get there and don't get me wrong, I like working with these folks.  It's those rare gems that truly want to be with their dog that I love working with. 

There were both ends of the spectrum in my most recent CU class.  

First the I had a well-meaning student who had a reactive dog.
The few times his dog reacted in class, he felt embarrassed and his own mode of thinking became reactive; he jerked the leash.  I know he was embarrassed and frustrated, but I could tell he wanted to change his own behaviors and help his dog.  If I would have only had a few more weeks with him and his dog to help him get to a better state.  Convince him that his dog wasn't being an asshole...he was just acting the best way he knew how in the given situation.  This dog was so food motivated that it easily could have had developed a different CER (conditioned emotional response) with a little bit of extra work.  I mean, c'mon a dog that will literally work for Kibbles-n-Bits dry dog food!  Easy!

Then there was the student who really got it.
A wonderful lady who, admittedly, has been training with BehaviorWorks since her dog was a pup.  She had her timing down for marking correct behaviors to the millisecond.  Her reward delivery was near perfect.  She upped criteria exactly when and where it should be done.  I continued to push her where she needed it, but I gotta tell ya, it wasn't a lot.  She's the one...The One Student...who worked with her dog as he was in the moment.  They grew together over the 6 weeks and blossomed into wonderful partners.

It's a beautiful thing and extremely rewarding to have such a student in class.  Someone who just "gets it."  Someone who wants to push themselves and their dog in a mutual, connected relationship.  This is more than training, this is real life relationship building.  And it's wonderful to witness. 


  1. You said it perfectly!! It is rare to get that student that "gets" it, although, so many do try. It was so great having YOU in my class and watching the progress you and Oscar made!!

  2. "clients who respect and desire a true connection and open communication with their dog are few and far between." -- this is both distressing and depressing info to hear as a pet rescuer and foster dog mom. :(

    What do you think causes people to be like this? Are they just not bonding with their puppy or dog? Or are they too stressed at being in a class with other people they feel are watching and judging them? Is it partly because they lack good timing or skills? I wonder if there is anything to help improve their personal involvement with their dog.

  3. Hi Joni -

    Thanks for your comment.

    These are just my opinions, so take them as that, but I do think that a lot of people are too concerned with what others think when it comes to the classroom setting. I bring this point up because the "one student" who connected the most in the past CU class is the one who didn't care what the others were doing in class...she was there to be with her dog.

    A lot of others rush through exercises and just want to get it "right" by textbook standards...completely disregarding the connection and communication (or lack thereof) that gets them to that point. I see this in every type of class I teach...manners, CU, agility.

    Now, I'm not saying that just because owners do not connect with their dog on this deeper level that they are "bad"'s just a beautiful thing to witness someone who has a true connection, a true understanding, a true partnership with their dog.

    I would love to someday have a "relationship" course offering where it revolves around observing, respecting, communicating and connecting with your dog. Doing this is a learned skill for many (myself included!), but I feel that it can be discovered/taught/developed.

    All the best,